Techdirt notes a patent application from Microsoft covering Automatic Goodbye Messages. Says submitter theodb (who is incidentally highly skilled at identifying asspatents):

By automatically sending messages like ‘Have a great afternoon!’, ‘Sorry, I have got to go!’, ‘Have a terrific day!’, ‘Ciao, Harry!’, or even a simple ‘Bye!’ at the end of an IM session, Microsoft explains, one avoids insulting a converser with whom a conversation is ended.

Yeah. That’s great. Revolutionary idea, clearly in no way obvious to the generation of people who grew up with IRC and text editing software that’s capable of autocompleting words or phrases based on user-defined shortcuts and behavior.

But to put a positive spin on this post, here’s a related idea that I would totally pay for—and if anybody builds this, you can file for a patent on it with my blessing:

I want an IM plugin that will determine whether or not anything productive and/or entertaining is likely to come from continuing an IM session and if not, send an automatic goodbye message to the other participant and terminate the session.

As an alternate formulation, I’d accept an implementation in which (after determining that the session is unproductive/boring) an Eliza-ish AI automatically takes over the session for me, responding to the other participant as seems appropriate.

Lazyweb, do your thing!

Because it would be expensive, impractical, and not fix the core problem…


…to answer my own question below, but you’ll come to that soon enough.

Doc Searls just posted on a topic that’s been coming back into my head in recent days, for some odd reason.

My response to the “defensive patent” argument is that a company holding “defensive patents” makes me feel almost exactly as safe as somebody keeping a loaded handgun in a cigar box under their bed for “self defense.” In both cases it’s possible that they know what they’re doing and nothing bad will happen, but the situation just seems like a bad one…somebody’s likely to end up getting shot, and everyone involved is likely to regret that shooting very soon after it happens.

So how about this: why isn’t there a mechanism for registering “prior art” with the USPTO in place of a patent application? Why couldn’t Doc and the folks that have been working on VRM, for example, write up the associated mechanisms and processes and submit them to a sort of “patent examiners look here first when reviewing applications” store that the USPTO maintains?

Rather than having to take out a defensive patent, which (regardless of good intentions) has the potential to be an offensive patent at the drop of a hat, you’re simply registering a statement of the work and thought that has been put into a particular area or idea. Every patent application has to be checked against this USPTO “prior art archive,” and a match means that the application is automatically rejected.

So, why doesn’t this exist? Because it would be expensive, impractical, and not fix the core problem with the US patent system. It’d be a halfhearted, partially effective band-aid applied in an effort to postpone the major overhaul that is so clearly required.

The Congress shall have the power to […] promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

(Oh, and merry Christmas, everyone…the various kids are starting to pop up from their naps, so I’m going back to the fun.)

Stating the Obvious?


Over at OnLamp, Jason Cole yesterday suggested that we should assemble a massive, public database of all the “obvious” ideas we can think of as a defense against such joys as the Blackboard asspatent.

I’m reminded of a scene that’s appeared in more bad science fiction than I care to admit to consuming: a time traveller returns to their present after some sort of mission, and must then rattle off all of the obvious, meaningless facts that they can come up with, so that the government/corporation/cabal can check those facts to verify that the timeline wasn’t inadvertently changed by the mission. Needless to say, this rarely works:

Time Traveller: …ice melts at 32 degrees, and Hal Patterson holds the CFL record for the most consecutive 100+ yard receiving regular season games, set in 1956.

Scientist One: Great, everything checks out, looks like there were no timeline changes at all. Okay, if you could just lie down on the altar here…?

Time Traveller: Um, sorry, what?

Scientist Two: The altar. You know, where we ritually sacrifice all returning time travellers to Cthulhu to show our thanks. Just lie down here…

Time Traveller: No, no — something’s gone horribly wrong! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! This isn’t — aaaarrrrrrrrgh!

Scientist One: Funny how they always say that, isn’t it?

Fade out.

It’s actually a lot harder than one might think to state the really, really obvious: ask someone to state the most obvious thing they can think of. Then sit down with the beverages of your choice and talk through the assumptions that underly whatever their answer was — the ones that are so obvious that they didn’t realize they were making them. It’ll be a surprisingly big list.

(Seriously, do this. It makes for some interesting conversations.)

Pre-one click patent, would it have occurred to anyone that “minimizing the amount of effort required for a customer to purchase a product via a Web site” was an obvious idea in need of defense? Given that the patent covers a specific implementation of this larger idea, would it have been obvious that the specific implementation would have to be noted as…um, obvious?

I would have thought that combining anti-asspatent activism with big database fun would be like chocolate and peanut butter for me, but I just don’t buy this one.

Who says patents don’t drive innovation?


It should come as no surprise that in the light of Apple’s settlement, Creative is continuing the shakedown made possible by its patent on hierarchical menus. (Though lest you start worrying, the patent is limited in scope — it wouldn’t cover such interfaces in digital cameras, for example. That patent is held by Minolta.)

Anyway, Techdirt Mike notes a little item that I missed about the Apple settlement: “[a]lso, since some of the terms of the original agreement mean that Apple pays less if Creative gets others to license the patent, you can begin to see why Apple decided to settle rather than fight. They pay less the more Apple’s other (non-Creative) competitors have to pay up.”

Nice! A beautiful meta-Ponzi scheme: the bigger the pyramid gets, the less screwed the people at the top are. If Creative hasn’t filed for a business model patent on this, they’re missing out on a golden opportunity. And to think that this advance was made possible by our patent system — take that, IP non-believers!

Friday afternoon amusements: hi there, USPTO!


Happy Friday, all. Got back to my desk and there was a message waiting for me, indicating that I’d had a very special visitor to this post on the USPTO’s little patent difficulties.

Date: 21 Apr 2006 14:45:03 -0400 (EDT)
From: Sea Monkey Watch
Subject: Visitor - U.S. Patent and Trademark Office came by for a visit at 21/Apr/2006:14:33:02.

Thought you'd want to know, because...

OrgName:    U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

...looks like...

patent and trademark

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Comparing Two Things: Still Patented After All These Years


Yesterday I pointed out a little blast from the past: the origins of the term “asspatent,” in this September 2004 post. While you should, of course, read that post in its amusing entirety, the business end was an imagined dialogue between Lawyer and Boss at Commtouch: a “vendor of email technology, messaging applications, and comprehensive messaging platforms to enterprises, portals, large ISP and Telco organizations since 1991”, and also the company that purchased US Patent 6,330,590 towards the end of 2004. To wit:

Lawyer: Hey, boss? We may have a problem — apparently some guy has a patent on comparing two email messages to see whether they’re the same.

Boss: Yeah, right. Pull the other one, why don’t you? It’s got bells on it.

Lawyer: No, seriously. You know how the U.S. Patent Office is. I actually patented my ass the other day, just for fun. It was approved. I’m thinking about patenting respiration next week.

Boss: It’s been a long week and I don’t need to deal with this crap. We just got $3.9 million thrown at us, let’s buy the damn patent. There are too many companies in the anti-spam software space anyway, maybe we can pick up some extra revenue by suing people.

So yesterday’s post inspired me to check on what Commtouch has been doing since September ’04…after all, I’ll happily admit to being rather cynical on the patent front, and it would be unfair of me to assume that Commtouch was going the patent shakedown route without any supporting evidence, wouldn’t it?

I mean, in the absence of, say, a Q4 2004 summary press release noting that “[Commtouch] believes that its patent strategy is moving in the right direction, and that in 2005, it will be able to initiate a patent licensing program for the registered patent it purchased during 2004,” it would be unreasonable to opine that the imagined Lawyer/Boss discussion above seems eerily accurate, right?

Lacking something like a May 2005 press release in which Commtouch CEO Gideon Mantel gleefully states that “Coming on the heels of [Commtouch’s] agreement to market DCC commercially, the license to PineApp marks one of the first steps in implementing our global DCC licensing strategy,” and that “[Commtouch plans] to decisively enforce our licensing program and patent strategy in a comprehensive manner,” it would be just plain wrong to suggest that Commtouch plans to continue demanding licensing fees for an idea that it didn’t create, from companies that independently developed similar ideas, on the basis of a patent that should never have been granted at all…right?